Wednesday, December 22, 2010


     When I was fifteen my friend Bev and I worked for a summer in Canada. Her sister had done it before and we were super excited. We were hired as cooks for an elderly couple who vacationed every summer on a huge lake. They were from the South. For decades some wealthy families had traveled up to Canada to escape the heat of the Bible Belt. Bev and I both came from big families and had learned how to cook early on; nothing gourmet, but we could get good meals on the table without too much fuss.

     We drove with Bev’s sister about 13 hours north to a little town called Magnetawan. It was very quaint along the main street on Ahmic Lake. An old Post Office, a gas station and “June’s” store were the local hangouts. We met our new employers and loaded into their circa 1930’s wooden motor boat. The boat would be our means of transportation for the next few weeks. Buzza, as our elderly gentleman was nicknamed, taught me how to handle her…piloting around the lake, docking, and gassing her up. We were a few miles into the lake by boat, with no road or car. The sprawling log home and boat house had been built years before when the lake was completely frozen in winter. Every day we took the boat into town for supplies and mail and milkshakes.

     We had an amazing summer for two teenaged girls. There was a distinction between the locals of Magnetawan, the wealthy summer vacationers, and the cooks. The teens and early twenty-somethings all partied together, but we knew our places. We spent weekend evenings in the cozy lofts of boathouses, listening to James Taylor, Pure Prairie League and melodic jazz; the water lapping and boats knocking softly in their docks below. Some of us could play the guitar or sing, and sometimes we listened to a stereo phonograph. Other evenings we conspired to meet somewhere on the lake and, in the dark by boat light and lanterns, we hitched a dozen or so boats together and played more music,  laughing and talking until midnight.

     We looked forward to the weekly square-dance. Everyone was there and we hoped to be in some formation or to dosie-doe even for a second with one of the handsome young boys. Bev and I would return home by boat, and though summer, huddle under blankets and freeze on the ride back. There were canoe races (came in 3rd) and sailboat races (dead last, capsized), water skiing (could NOT get the hang of dropping a ski) and swims from one island to another (amazing how gullible I was to shrieks of “Shark!”). Great memories.

     We did cook. Breakfasts, lunches, dinners. We made and ate what Buzza and his family liked. I had grits for the first time and blueberries with heavy cream. We learned to bake “Butter Tarts,” a favorite of the town. The family’s grown children and grandchildren visited while we were there and were all gracious to me and Bev. It was a wonderful experience. I did not return until years later, married, and a guest of one of the wealthy vacationers. It was fun to revisit the lake and town. I was no longer a part of the younger culture and at that time it was OK. If I could go back in time, though, it would be to that summer when I was  fifteen.

     We weren’t asked back. Maybe the couple got too old or didn’t go back for a few summers. I doubt it. They probably found better cooks. Or it could have been because we almost burned their house down with a kitchen fire. Bev and I made some great chicken, but that night one of us forgot to turn off the broiler, and the other returned the pan full of meat drippings into the oven and closed the door. Halfway into the meal Buzza’s wife jumped up, eyes wide with fear and shouted, “OK, Buzza!!” We all turned to see smoke billowing from the kitchen. Buzza grabbed a fire extinguisher and gallantly put out the flames while we rushed in to save things. Luckily, the only thing lost was the stove. It could have been worse. Bev and I were in the doghouse for only a brief time before we were allowed back in. Our employers were gracious Southerners, forgiving Christians.

     When we were homesick or just needed to be mothered and cooked for, we boated across the lake. Osa was the cook for one of the oldest vacationers. Slightly stooped but full of spice and energy, Osa took care of us. She could really cook. We loved her lasagna and her butter tarts. I’ll include the recipes below. Maybe someday we’ll return to Magnetawan. I’ll bet it’ll still be magical. But I think most of the magic will be sparkling in my eyes as I remember that summer.

Coming in third, me in center

Me in Magnetawan. Uh, I think Bev wasn't aiming at me.

 Osa's Lasagna

2 Tb. Olive oil
1 lb. lean ground round
4 c. tomato sauce
4 Tb. chopped Italian parsley
3 ½ c. ricotta cheese
1 c. chopped spinach, cooked & well-drained
¼ c. grated parmesan cheese
1 Tb. oregano
¾ tsp. nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
8 lasagna noodles, cooked
3 c. shredded low fat mozzarella

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add ground beef. Cook 5 minutes. Remove from heat and drain oil. Add tomato sauce and 2 Tb. of the parsley.

In a bowl, mix ricotta, spinach, parmesan, remaining 2 Tb. Parsley, oregano, nutmeg and pepper. Place 2 c. tomato meat sauce in the bottom of a 9x13 inch baking dish. Place 4 lasagna noodles on top, then ½ the ricotta mixture, then 1 c. mozzarella. Repeat layers once more. Top with remaining sauce and 1 c. cheese.

Cover loosely with aluminum foil. Place dish on cookie sheet and bake for about 45 minutes. Remove foil and bake another 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven and let rest 10-15 minutes before serving. Makes about 8 servings.

Osa's Butter Tarts 

2 c. brown sugar
2 Tb. Butter
2 tsp. vanilla
2 eggs
piecrust dough (bought or favorite recipe)

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Mix all ingredients with an electric mixer until very smooth. Roll out piecrust dough and cut a dozen 4 to 5 inch circles with a bowl. Press each circle into 12 muffin tins. Pour brown sugar mixture evenly into tins. Bake until pastry is done and tarts are browned and bubbly.

I hope you’ll get the chance to try these. I hope you’ll get the chance to visit Magnetawan someday. You'll be blessed.

The Abbey Farm

1 comment:

  1. What great memories of our summer in Magentawan! Thanks for sharing. The cooking (you were clearly the lead, and I was the sous!), the stove fire (yikes!), the sailing, the swimming, and the beautiful night skies. I've only rarely seen night skis as full of stars since our time in Magnetawan- Love, B